Types of software which most often have specific 32bit and 64bit versions are antivirus software, device drivers for hardware such as printers, system utilities and web browsers like Microsoft’s IE9 (Internet Explorer 9).
What Are These Bits? Without getting over complicated, the major difference between 32bit and 64bit versions of Windows is that 32 bit versions of Windows can only read and use up to 3 GB of memory (RAM) whereas 64 bit versions can read and use up to 8GB or more.
Computers today increasingly come with at least 4GB of RAM to satisfy the high demands of gaming and video editing so 64 bit versions of Windows are increasingly common as only they can make full use of these larger amounts of memory.
Tip: There is no point upgrading your RAM past 3GB if you only have a 32 bit version of Windows. You will be wasting your money as only 3GB will ever be used – Windows will ignore the rest!
How Can I Tell Which Version I Have? In ‘the old days’ all versions of Windows were 32 bit so if you have an old Windows 95/98/ME/NT computer it will be 32 bit – though for security reasons you should upgrade to a newer computer as soon as possible.
Windows XP: Although there was a 64 bit version of XP it is extremely rare so the chances you have it are very small. If you want to check then click ‘Start’ then right-click ‘My Computer’, and then click ‘Properties’ to open the ‘System Properties’ window. If you don’t see “x64 Edition” listed then you are running the standard 32 bit version of XP. If you do see “x64 Edition” listed then you are one of the very few still running the 64 bit version of XP.
Vista and Windows 7: Click the ‘Start’ button then right-click ‘Computer’, and then click ‘Properties’ to open the ‘System’ window. In the ‘System’ window, you will see the system type – either 32 bit or 64 bit.
Now that you know whether you have a 32 bit or 64 bit version of Windows, whenever you download or install new software check you are getting the right version for you:
- If you have 32 bit Windows then only use 32 bit software. 64 bit software will NOT work on your computer.
- If you have 64 bit Windows then you have more choices. Try to use 64 bit software if it is available. If it isn’t, and there is only one version of software available, it should still run fine on your computer provided that it is not an antivirus program or device driver for hardware.
The golden rules
- 32 bit Windows cannot run 64 bit software.
- 64 bit Windows may be able to run 32 bit software (unless it is for antivirus/device drivers) but 64 bit software is much preferred if it is available.